Life is a series of choices made by individuals with the information they have gathered while living through choices made by others around them. We can thank pilots for the term “situational awareness”. However, for the past few decades many professional crime fighters, military, and civilian individuals have used this term and trained to understand and be more aware of their situations. This is an article about a term many of us think we know well, it’s my intent to help understand it completely and maybe learn a few things as well. (I know I always learn from the comments and feedback received!)
Situational Awareness is understanding, observing and being involved in your immediate environment. The technical definition is, “the perception of the elements in the environment within a volume of time and space, comprehension of their meaning and the projection of their status in the near future.”¹ As individuals who desire to be prepared for what life may throw at us, having a well tuned situational awareness is easily the most important thing we can do.
How do we train ourselves to be prepared all while maintaining a safe immediate environment?
For myself there is one approach that I learned very early in life, I call it “UN-focusing”. Using the horizon, I look out and consciously make myself see the objects on the horizon without focusing on any of them in particular. When you do this you will find that the smallest movement or change in your eye line will cause you to instantly shift and focus on it. It is this approach that has honestly done the most over the years to help me stay safe and by default my family and those around me. Situational awareness is understanding your environment and how you interact within it. The key is being aware of your surroundings!
Several years ago I learned Colonel Cooper’s color code approach to maintaining awareness. White = relaxed and unaware. Yellow = relaxed but aware of what is around you, Orange = something of interest has entered your awareness, Red = what you are aware of is a threat. After several courses and more time spent I learned Massad Ayoob’s fifth color code, Black = acting with intent to stop a threat. It only took a little while before I realized that simple is better than complicated when it comes to self-defense. This is why I came up with the abbreviated approach that has worked well for me.
Using just three colors you can navigate life and stay safe. Understanding that everything is a threat until proven otherwise; I simply tossed White and maintain a life in Yellow = relaxed but aware of what is around you including items of interest. This way I can easily move directly to Red = aware of and focusing on the threat or threats and fluidly into Black = acting with the intent to stop a threat as needed based on knowledge of human action and surroundings where I may find myself at the time. Again there are really only three colors in the life of someone who understands a threat is NOT always someone that needs to be shot, a threat can be an out of control vehicle, a falling building, rock or even an animal of any type at any time.
By utilizing additional props that are all around us in our daily life we can easily expand our 180 degree visual awareness to take in the 270 auditory awareness and even extend it into a full 360 degree awareness bubble, NOT circle, as what is above and below us is just as potentially dangerous as what is in front, on our sides or behind us. To do this learn to use mirrors that exist in anything reflective. When I taught surveillance and counter surveillance we used buildings, other people and the age old primate ideal, deception. When walking down a street with or around other people do you notice their expressions or shifts in concentration? Humans have barely imperceptible shifts that occur in our faces, posture and more when we become aware of anything else in our vicinity.
We often perk up, our lips may purse or our eyebrows may furrow just for a split second, these are tells that regardless how good someone is, WILL occur in many situations. Specifically when we view what is deemed to be a potential threat through social programming or simple genetic coding. These are the tells you can be aware of allowing you to easily extend your bubble past your solitary 360 bubble and into the realm of the supernatural. Consider for a minute the various individuals who over the many years we have come to see as somehow more advanced or superhuman in their various abilities. Good, experienced marine snipers or seasoned special forces and or seasoned field agents with any number of agencies can sometimes seem to be capable of things far beyond the normal range. Let me reassure you, their capabilities may have some natural ability attached OR they are simply well trained.
Be aware of your surroundings and learn to use it to your benefit. Remember, that glass walled building is a mirror, the concrete planter is cover and sometimes those people who will surely freeze also offer momentary cover for you to react. After all, ACTION always beats REACTION. I personally have absolutely no compunction whatsoever with placing someone I do not know in between myself/family and a potential threat.
After all, the sooner I can freely engage said threat the faster the threat is ended. This leads into the next step regarding situational awareness, understanding that everything you do is based on your internal measure of the individual value of yours and others lives. I am not asking you to physically place a value on others, rather, I need those interested in truly understanding what is necessary to resolving a threat to understand that subconsciously we ALL already do value others based on any number of reasons. This is pure human nature, nothing more, it is not a negative it simply is. Understand this and your life will become both more difficult and yet also much simpler.
Next in the lineup of things to work on that relate directly to situational awareness from a daily living standpoint is the very simple idea that a moving target is always harder to hit. Daily you should be in Yellow = relaxed but aware of your surroundings by simply un-focusing this is possible to maintain at all times regardless external or internal factors. Next it is a simple matter of daily repetition in movement and the utilization of scientific method to ensure further safety utilizing situational awareness. I am talking about being able to move instantly off the X. I am talking about the X, Y, that is your 360 degree environment. What you should always be noticing are potential areas where a threat may occur. All predators enjoy a hunt, however, they enjoy an easy capture/kill far more than the hunt itself. Know where ambushes may be more likely, or where people may crowd into a single place making them easy pickings.
Recent events have shown me yet again that understanding situational awareness is necessary regardless your belief in self-determination eg., self-defense. Consider that recent school shootings have NOT been accomplished by well trained or even intelligent individuals. Rather, they have been accomplished by predators who acted on their base instincts. They pursued easy to gain prey and did so in locations where the prey could be even more easily dispatched. When the prey no longer presented an easy target in almost all instances the predators left or terminated themselves. I am not discounting the heinous nature of the events, I am simply stating that if these children had parents that cared more about them than their careers, political goals or otherwise they may see the simple reality that is prevention by education; utilizing situational awareness.
Lastly, it is absolutely necessary to address our actions when we are tired or believe we are in a safe place and why even in our castles., eg. homes, we CANNOT live outside of Yellow. The greatest number of traffic accidents happen within 2 miles of ones own home. Violent crime statistics show us that the vast majority occur in commercial areas (restaurants, bars etc.,) where we are relaxed from drinking or are spending time with loved ones and our attention is not on our surroundings.² There is NEVER a reason to drop our Yellow level in any circumstances. I firmly believe in always being in Yellow and have even been able to adapt sleep habits to match, with some minor adjustments and the obvious need for sleep there are things that can be done that allow for a good life all while being safe. This is why I firmly believe in the idea that is situational awareness and the approaches I have lined out above. This is what I taught and now you know the why in most cases.
As always if you have questions or comments please let me know! I am positive I have missed some things and likely could use more refinement as time does, in fact, reveal errors quite well. So let me know and we can help each other!
Free the mind and the body will follow…
¹ ENDSLEY R Mica (1987). The application of human factors to the development of expert systems for advanced cockpits. Proceedings of the Human Factors Society 31st Annual Meeting, pp. 1388-1392. Human Factor Society (Santa Monica, CA), 1987
² National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). (2018). Retrieved April 03, 2018, from https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=44